Bipartisan group formed to help Kentuckians with disabilities

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A bipartisan group of House and Senate members have formed the Engage and Empower Caucus to deal with issues facing the estimated 874,000 Kentuckians who have some form of disability.


Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, says he came up with the idea because there are 39 million disabled people in the country, including 30 percent of Kentuckians, 11 percent of whom receive some kind of disability payment.


“This is the largest and fastest-growing minority that we’re dealing with today,” said Gentry, who lost his right arm during an accident while he was a graduate student working for an environmental consulting firm.


He called this a great day for Kentucky.  “We are laying the foundation for long-term success, in dealing with Kentuckians who have disabilities.”


Gentry, who is in his second term in the House, said he realized what needed to be done a few weeks ago.


 “We need to open up a direct line of communications between those who advocate for people with disabilities and the state legislature.”


He says he immediately called Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, who is has cerebral palsy.  “As soon as I mentioned the idea to Brandon, he got excited about it and said, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do. I’m all in.’”  He serves as co-chair.


Reed said: “I know the challenges people with disabilities face.  It’s not defined by political party or any rural-urban divide.  I know these issues will have no impact on The Engage and Empower Caucus.”


The two contacted 18 lawmakers to be the charter members, all of whom jumped on board, 14 House members and four Senators, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.  


The caucus will focus their efforts on eight pieces of legislation before the 2019 General Assembly:  dyslexia education; a Golden Alert system for those with defined impairments; creating a Green Alert for veterans at-risk; a farmer-focused mental health program; increasing the homestead exemption for disabled veterans; and establishing treatment and restraint rules for children with developmental disabilities.


Other bills to be filed would focus on insurance fairness for amputees and tax credits for those who modify their homes to make them more accessible.


In addition to Gentry and Reed, other inaugural members of the caucus are: state representatives Rocky Adkins, Tina Bojanowski, Charles Booker, Bam Carney, Deanna Frazier, Kathy Hinkle, Savannah Maddox, Michael Meredith, Melinda Gibbons Prunty, Rick Rand, Nancy Tate and Lisa Willner.


Senate caucus members include Julie Raque Adams, Jimmy Higdon, Morgan McGarvey and Johnny Ray Turner.

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